Local News

Newman Takes Fast Track From Winston Surprise To Winston Favorite

Posted April 24, 2003 2:08 a.m. EDT

— Ryan Newman's victory in last year's running of The Winston literally sent shockwaves through the motorsports community.

A rookie is not supposed to win NASCAR's all-star event.

But when Winston Cup racing's best drivers take the green flag for this year's running of The Winston May 17 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, the driver of Penske Racing's No. 12 Ford will be among the favorites instead of the dark horses.

The Winston is a one-night throwback to the way racing used to be -- the top drivers in the best equipment, ready to duke it out for some bodacious cash.

The last one standing -- the first one across the line -- cashes the biggest check. If there's a chance for victory on the final lap, there will be no quarter given, and none expected.

Newman, a product of the rough-and-tumble USAC sprint car, midget and Silver Crown series in the Midwest, has spent the bulk of his career competing in events with a similar format.

"The Winston is an awesome event," Newman said. "We're there. We qualify. We do the last-chance races. It's a typical Saturday night short-track race at a superspeedway.

"That's what I think a lot of Winston Cup racing should be. Not necessarily in that format, but it should be a short, Saturday-night Winston Cup race.

"To me," Newman said, "The Winston was the biggest race I won all year, certainly bigger than winning at Loudon (N.H.) It's hard for people to see it, but drivers race harder in The Winston than they do at any points race."

Although the $1 million first prize for this year's race is nice, it's apparently not a motivating factor.

"It's about winning, not about the money," said Newman, a 25-year-old Indiana native. "Most drivers race because of the money, but I don't. I race to win."

So, how did Newman go from Midwestern open-wheel standout to winner of The Winston?

The odyssey began with a search for "the next Jeff Gordon." Newman, the 1999 USAC Silver Crown champion at age 22, was one of several USAC drivers NASCAR owners had their eye on.

"We had been watching a lot of USAC guys because the midgets, sprints and Silver Crown cars teach one thing, and that's car control," said Don Miller, co-owner of Penske Racing South. "You get a good guy with car control, and you put him in anything, and it really doesn't matter whether it's a stock car or a midget or whatever, because he has the basic talent and ability to use the car as an extension of himself."

Penske Racing officials finally decided to have Newman test one of their cars.

"We have a long-term relationship with Buddy Baker, who had helped (Penske driver) Rusty (Wallace) with his superspeedway tests," Miller said. "I asked him to take a look at this kid.

"We took him (Newman) to St. Louis, because he had some experience there in a Silver Crown car. We ran him there, and Buddy picked up the phone and said: "If you don't hire this kid, you need your head examined.'"

Newman made his first start for Penske Racing in a 2000 ARCA RE/MAX Series race at Michigan International Speedway. He won the second ARCA race he entered, at Pocono Raceway, and followed it with victories at Kentucky Motor Speedway and Lowe's Motor Speedway.

In 2001, Newman ran a mix of ARCA,Busch Series and Winston Cup events, winning a Busch Series race at Michigan and earning the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 in one of seven Winston Cup starts. He finished second in the inaugural Winston Cup race at Kansas Speedway, and he won six poles in 15 Busch Series events.

In addition to winning The Winston last year, Newman recorded a victory at New Hampshire International Speedway. He had 14 top-five finishes en route to the rookie-of-the-year title and sixth-place in the final point standings.

Tickets for The Winston start at $21 and are available by calling the Lowe's Motor Speedway ticket office at

(800) 455-FANS

or online at

the Lowe's Motor Speedway website.